TRIBUTES | Sunday Observer


Cyril Tennakoon:

An unflappable personality with refined character

Impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and selflessness are the true nature of things. If we could internalise these three characteristics, we are at a sublime level of attainment. The late Cyril Tennakoon had made it a mental habit to see everything in life with these three characteristics.

He was my ‘Kalyana Mithra’, the best friend until he passed away a year ago on March 28, 2018 silently. His moment of death was a remarkable occurrence that could happen only to a person of high level of mindfulness. He had no hesitation in passing away until he breathed his last at the ripe age of 94 plus.

He confirmed to my test of a true friend and so did I under his microscope. He lived in Lewella and I in Colombo. I drove to Kandy as often as I could to enjoy the luxury of conversation with him. He enlightened me and gave me great satisfaction from the rich conversation. His meticulous planning his life and retirement not leaving anything for the children or others to worry about even after having devolved all his worldly assets decades before his parting was a gracious example of parenthood.

He graduated from the University of Ceylon in 1949 and chose to be among the flowers as a Botanist and Curator of the Royal Botanical Gardens. One of his best creations is the beautiful Rose Garden at Hakgala Gardens by inviting British High Commissioner Sir Stanley Tomlinson to gift the seed cuttings from the Kew Gardens in the UK.

He retired from Peradeniya Gardens in 1975, and thereafter, served in Saudi, Oman in the Royal Gardens and returned to Sri Lanka after 15 years. His familiarity with Dhamma was evident when he was invited to be the General Manager at the Buddhist Cultural Centre (BCC). His interpersonal skills and in-depth knowledge of the business world made it possible for him to develop the BCC to be the largest publisher of the Buddhist Literature in 13 years. The BCC is renowned as the largest collection of Buddhist publications in the world.

Everyone who came to know him liked him and endeared him irrespective of ‘caste or creed’. His friendship ranged from those powerful and mighty to the down-trodden, but associated with humility and equanimity with them all. I recall the stories of Prime Ministers and Ministers who visited him and whose doors were open for him. He never wanted to live a life owing gratitude to a politician for personal gain. Once the first woman Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike asked him if he would exchange jobs with her when he was working at the Hakgala gardens. He endowed this independent character to his family. His eldest son, Dasarath, as a child told Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala when his driver parked the Prime Minster’s car at a wrong place that he would be fined by his father for parking the car at the wrong place. The Prime Minister met the father to congratulate him for making a son so upright. His relationships with people was so mercurial that in his eighties and nineties, many people who befriended years ago, visited him for a chat. His memory was impeccable with details of dates, names and how things happened.

He was the only brother of the late William Tennakoon, the Governor of the Central Bank. Both of them along with their sister, the late Anula Herat gifted their land to build the Subodharama Temple at Peradeniya.

He was also the loving husband of Lala Tennakoon who predeceased him, but was an equally adorable woman, and parented four illustrious children, Premanie, Dasarath, Lakshantha and Geethanjalie. He was blessed to enjoy the love of seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Both of them worked silently and humbly to contribute to the Buddha Sasana. Life has given me the fortune of having them as my dearest friends. I rejoice Cyril Tennakoon’s virtuous life along with my best gift they have given me, my wife Premani.

Dr. Chandra Embuldeniya

Kandiah Neelakandan:

A legal luminary with a vision and dedication

I first came to know Kandiah Neelakandan in 1967 when he and I were law students at law college. I was reading to pass out as an advocate and he as a proctor. When I saw him for the first time, he had three stripes of viboodhi on his forehead and a yellow Sandanam and a red Kunkumam between his eyebrows in addition to one jasmine flower tucked in his right ear.

Many people did not approve of this display of his religion, but I in my heart admired and respected him for it.

‘Neela’ as I call him, never ever came to Law College or thereafter to courts in the mornings without making this statement that he was a Hindu.

At Law College, I was not a friend of Neela’s and hardly knew him except when I contested for the Presidency of the Law Students’ Union. He along with many of my Tamil friends voted for me. However, later as lawyers, I became acquainted with him as he and I worked in several committees of the Bar Association. He always worked with a purpose and dedication in whichever committee and in whichever capacity he served in them. In 2003 or 2004, I was the Chairman of the Law Committee of the Bar Association and he was a member. It was then that we got to know each other at a personal level. His devotion to Hinduism and my fascination and respect for Hinduism resulted in a special bond between us.

A bond of friendship blossomed between us through the years and it lasted till he left us forever. I had during a SAARC law conference in Rajasthan bought an exquisite statue of Nataraja made out of Panchaloha – gold, silver, copper, iron and zinc, the traditional five metal alloys of sacred significance. I had placed this statue in a special alcove in my meda midula. For me, it was a work of art which represented the cosmic rhythm of creation, evolution, destruction and the rebirth of the cosmos and the manifestation of the myriad aspects of energy, spirituality and form.

In 2011, I underwent double lung transplant surgery. When I was recuperating at home, Neela phoned my wife Rohini one evening and wanted to speak to me. Although I was not taking any calls during this time, I did take this one. He told me that he had seen the Nataraja statue in my garden and that he too had one in his home and that several of his friends, including the Chief Priest of the Captain Gardens Temple had advised him not to keep it at home and to donate it to a temple. He asked me whether I too would like to donate my statute to a temple, and my answer of course was “no”. Subsequently, Neela had requested my wife to persuade me to do so and that he would make arrangements to have the statue installed at a temple. One day he phoned and told us that he would send a priest with his son Saravanan at five in the morning to take my statute away along with his statute to Jaffna in a van. They came one morning while it was still dark and the priest did a brief pooja and took my Nataraja statue and installed it at the Sivapoomi Madam in Keerimallai where it stands venerated to date.

I am happy that it happened in this way, and my gratitude to Neela will always remain unchanged.

Neela and I were engaged in many activities of the Bar Association, especially, with regard to legal reform. I was the Chairperson of the Registration of Title Committee tasked with reviewing and suggesting amendments to the Registration of Title Act. The Committee consisted of J. M. Swaminathan, late Nihal Peiris, Elmo Perera, K. Neelakandan and several other eminent lawyers. We sat for months and came up with a comprehensive Amended Act; the provisions of which have received favourable acceptance. When I was the Chairman of the Law Commission, Neela was one of the Commissioners. During the first month of his being appointed a Commissioner, he submitted amendments to the Mortgage Act which after scrutiny of the commission was accepted with a few amendments by the commission and sent to the Ministry of Justice to have it passed in to law. That was 11 years ago.

Neelakandan with his usual enthusiasm and dedication, represented former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake during her impeachment proceedings. I was during this period away from Hulftsdorp and confined to my home as I was recuperating after my surgery. One day, Neela came home and asked me if I would act as a mediator to sort matters out between the parties. I told him that I would certainly do so if the request comes from the other party as well.

The request did come and I tried my best to bring about some accord so as to prevent impeachment proceedings. However, it failed as both parties could not agree on two or three matters which I thought were not that important when weighed against the consequences of proceedings with the impeachment in Parliament.

This was the extent of the depth of our bond and friendship. I am happy that Neelakandan’s two sons, Saravanan and Pranavan, are friends of my son Tilanka. I hope that their friendship will also grow and be of mutual benefit to them.

I don’t know where Neela’s spirit is, but I am certain that it will find its abode in a pleasant spiritual dimension. Death is never the end. It is just the beginning of an existence in another dimension.

Nihal Jayamanne PC